All the hullabaloo about the release of the Palace letters this week has left me rather unamused as the Queen might say – the villain of the 1975 Dismissal will always be, for mine, one John Malcolm “Where’s my trousers? Fraser.
The letters might have shown that Queen Elizabeth was not told beforehand of that drunken fool John Kerr’s decision to sack the Whitlam Government on November 11, 1975 – well, on the basis of what’s been released, that is – but that she, through her private secretary, gave every encouragement nevertheless to the path the pathetic pisspot was keen to go down.
It was, after all, a left-wing government so no real harm done, what ho?
Australians much younger than me – those under 60 – probably couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Dismissal; they still don’t know or care about it, despite the week’s mass media coverage of the letters. Those under 30 even less so; I don’t think it was on Tik Tok.
And that in a way is a crying shame.
It would be great if they could all understand that the catalyst for Kerr’s treachery against an elected government was Fraser’s decision to block supply to the government to force an election.
The events of 1975 have lessons that are still current today and the primary one is this: never, ever, underestimate the red-hot fury that consumes the Liberal and National (then Country) parties whenever the people of Australia have the temerity to deny them their God-given right to govern from it’s time to time.
Whitlam had done that to them twice in the space of 18 months, in the elections of December 1972 and May 1974.
Younger Aussies should also take notice that there was nothing at all fair and reasonable about Kerr’s decision, taken on the back of the advice of various Tory connections. If they can comprehend that, and appreciate the need to learn the lessons of history, maybe we’ll become a republic before that cute Prince George becomes king and Australia’s head of state.
As Donald Horne remarked in Death of the Lucky Country, never before in Australian political history had the vice-regal officer acted in a way that so favoured one side of politics and so disadvantaged the other.
My analogy – maybe not a very good one – is a game of footy where one side has been battling strong head winds for the first half and is still in with a chance despite trailing, only to have the game called off at half-time.
Most Australians living now would not know that as the stalemate over supply continued in 1975, Fraser was becoming increasingly rattled under the pressure that both Whitlam and the public was bringing to bear on his power-grabbing stance.
Fraser had reportedly been spotted on the steps of the old parliament house late at night, so pissed he wasn’t sure whether he was coming or going.
What’s left of my memory also reminds me that a national magazine –
The Bulletin, maybe? – was about to go to press with a cartoon of Fraser on the front and the heading Man in a Muddle. (Image at right found by one of The Bug’s research hubs after I penned this piece. Even Kerry Packer’s national political magazine The Bulletin thought Fraser was in deep shit – as shown by the less than flattering cover it carried for its edition published in the week of the dismissal. ).
The nation’s “youngsters” should also be reminded that the blocking of supply had only been possible because Queensland hillbilly dictator Johannes Bjelke-Petersen had defied convention, moral decency and the will of the people – the right are pretty good at this sort of thing – by replacing a dead Labor Senator with a bitter, right-wing nobody pledged to his cause.
Kerr’s intervention also meant he had completely dismissed Whitlam’s suggestion of a half-Senate election to resolve the issue. He was, after all, the Queen’s man.
I lost quite a few friendships with right-wing people who told me Australian democracy was in fine shape because Kerr had ensured a general election was to be held and what could be fairer than a general election to sort things out and let the people have their say?
Here’s how fair it was. For the first time in Australia’s history, the Prime Minister installed by Kerr – one Malcolm Fraser – did not control the House of Representatives.
I worked in the Queensland Labor Party’s Ross Street HQ as a volunteer for the duration of that campaign, and one of my jobs was to drive out to the Brisbane Airport in my little Honda Civic to pick up visiting sacked Whitlam ministers. I rescued at least three of these poor bastards, including the sacked Deputy PM.
Days before ministers of the Crown with all the trappings of power and the benefits of incumbency, they were truly shattered people waiting alone by the carousel and without their usual staffers and media managers.
I’d like to think all those mates who thought that was fair – Fraser’s next two resounding election victories were very much on the basis that Whitlam must have been truly awful to have forced the Governor-General to sack him – might have had a change of heart. I doubt it. The right are rarely, if ever, wrong.
For all Whitlam’s faults, Fraser and his Treasurer John Howard kept the Labor Treasurer Bill Hayden’s Budget intact – at least in the short-term. It was the right one for hard economic times.
Over the next eight or so years, Fraser and Howard proved dismal economic managers and I’ll proudly stick with my view that the Whitlam ministry sacked in late 1975 was, person for person, far superior to those God-given right to rulers who replace them.
Of course, Fraser later in his life tried for some revisionism about his time in politics.
Never me, but he did repair his image in many people’s eyes by showing decency and compassion for refugees, walking away from the Liberal Party and wandering around a US city without his pants on, not necessarily in that order.
Oh, okay … maybe I did finally see something decent in Fraser’s makeup. Maybe he was one of those who could reshape a tarnished image after politics. Amanda Vanstone has been trying it of late but it’s very much like trying to put a pretty bonnet on a king brown.
There was a long time there that I thought I’d never ever again hate a Liberal PM as much as I loathed and despised Fraser.
But then along came Scott Morrison.